DETROIT – David Livingstone says the idea behind the economic boycott he's organizing is simple: If people don't show up at work or buy things, companies lose money.
As he sees it, that's money the Bush administration can't tax, and can't use to run the war in Iraq, protect polluters or chip away at the Constitution.
So the Detroit Democrat and a handful of other anti-Bush groups across the country are urging others of like mind to withhold their cash and labor on Inauguration Day (search) — from all businesses. They don't think they'll inflict a huge economic pain, but they do want to make a point.
"I view the inauguration of Bush as a black Thursday for this country," Livingstone says. "We've tried marching in the streets to stop the war, we tried writing letters, we tried initiatives on the Web, but Bush doesn't listen. It seems to us the only thing Bush and the Republicans will listen to is money."
Livingstone, a 41-year-old writer, hopes to be in Washington for the Jan. 20 festivities, which for him means protests, black armbands and backs turned to the parade route.
And he's vowing not to buy gas, food or use his credit card that day: He wants the GOP, big oil, big banking, big box stores and any other "bigs" to know they can't push him around or ignore him — at least not on Jan. 20.
The White House is taking all the boycott talk in stride. Bush "is proud that we live in a society where people are free to peacefully express their opinions," spokesman Jim Morrell says.
Other groups nationwide, many loosely connected through the Internet, have put out calls similar to Livingstone's. Jesse Gordon, 44, of Cambridge, Mass., spreads the word through his Web site, Not One Damn Dime!
Gordon doesn't expect to shake the economy, but does want to see the president recognize dissent.
"I think Bush should acknowledge the boycott. If we're effective, he'll know about it, and he should acknowledge it," Gordon says.
In New Orleans, Buddy Spell says his January 20th Committee (search) eagerly endorses the idea of an economic boycott. He remains primarily concerned with organizing a jazz funeral procession through the downtown to mourn a second Bush term and what he calls the death of democracy. But he says a boycott is worth pursuing, in part because it can help unite disparate anti-Bush forces.
The groups hope to see several million people eating brown-bag lunches and dinners on Inauguration Day. If people don't want to boycott all business, the groups suggest buying from just those that support Democrats. The protesters say they'll measure success not in economic terms, but by whether people know about the boycott and if it sparks future activism.
And if there's by chance a blip in the GDP, that would be a bonus.
A bonus indeed, say economists and historians.
"I can't imagine it would have any impact whatsoever," says David J. Vogel, professor of business ethics at the University of California at Berkeley (search). "Even if everyone didn't buy on that day, they'd make up for it the next day."
Historian Lawrence Glickman says boycotts rarely accomplish any substantial economic goal, and if they do, it's usually because they are tailored to a specific product. Boycotts tend to have more success applying political pressure, but even that is limited.
Still, he said, their record of failure never seems to stop Americans from launching them.
"There's this appeal about boycotts, anyone can take part in them and you can use your pocketbook to express your dissatisfaction," says Glickman, who studies labor and consumer activism at the University of South Carolina (search) in Columbia.
"It's a way of feeling like we're participating in something bigger than ourselves."